In this era of little houses and downsized lifestyles, the full-size, body-on-frame SUV has been on a big sales roll this year. The Ford Expedition has been a sales savior and redesigned models from General Motors are due this summer for the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade.
Part of their popularity is a foundational sense of security on the road, tow ratings of 8,000 pounds and higher and a moderate price of fuel.
The Infiniti QX80 might not be the most evolved big SUV this year, but I found an unexpected quiet place among its 17 1/2 feet of length and three tons of refined utility.
But the appeal is more than brawn and Infiniti says the QX80 has a significant percentage of female buyers versus the segment average. Motivators, no doubt, are its cohesive exterior styling and an elegant interior design that looks and feels more carlike than repurposed truck. And it can pull a boat, horse or travel trailer of 8,500 pounds.
It is sold in Luxe and Limited trim levels, in two- or four-wheel drive, both with a 400-horsepower, direct-injected 5.6-liter V-8 and a seven-speed automatic transmission.
Starting prices range from $68,145 (add $3,100 for 4WD) to $92,845, including the $1,395 freight charge from Kyushu, Japan. Today’s Limited tester with standard 4WD had one option package of all-season floor mats and cargo mat ($355) for an as-tested price of $93,200.
At nearly $100K, the QX80 Limited compares to such body-on-frame SUVs as the Lincoln Navigator Black Label and the Cadillac Escalade.
The QX80 had a significant “facelift” redesign for 2018. And new for 2020 are a new generation InTouch infotainment system with upper and lower twin screens, 7-inch gauge display and a revised center stack of cabin controls. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard with standard technology systems of lane departure warning, backup collision intervention and blind spot warning.
Opting for the Limited model adds appreciable standard features. Among them, smart-key locking and push-button ignition, semi-aniline leather-trimmed upholstery, navigation system with lane guidance, 10-way power driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support, eight-way power passenger’s seat with two-way power lumbar, heated and ventilated front seats, 17-speaker Bose audio system, auto-leveling rear suspension, 22-inch wheels and all-season tires (275/50) and the Hydraulic Body Motion Control suspension system.
Infiniti is celebrating 30 years in America with a special Edition 30 package. For $3,500, adds 22-inch, dark forged aluminum-alloy wheels with 275/50 all-season tires, black front grille mesh, dark chrome exterior trim and mirror caps and a graphite black headliner, sun visors, sun shades and pillars. Other features include EDITION 30 stainless steel kick plates, a smart rearview (video) mirror and driver-assist technologies of lane departure prevention, intelligent full-speed cruise control, distance control assist, blind spot intervention.
Keep it simple
For those who can resist the siren-song of overwhelming advanced technologies, the QX80 does not require higher education to learn and appreciate its ease of ownership. The driver area could benefit from a redesign for more open-concept usability and, particularly, a larger rearview camera screen. But the systems in place will assist and inform without intrusion or frustration. And it might cost less to maintain when it’s out of warranty compared with its European counterparts, such as the Mercedes-Benz GLS or BMW X7.
With the Limited’s curb weight of 6,098 pounds (or 5,679 lbs. for 2WD) the V-8’s 413 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm are almost required for respectable performance. Acceleration can be quite brisk when needed, but the overall performance seems tuned for fuel economy.
The seven-speed automatic rolls easily through the gears and even has rev-matching downshifts, for those bold enough to attempt.
EPA mileage ratings are 13 mpg city, 19 highway and 15 mpg combined, on premium fuel. I worked up to 17.4 mpg on a long highway run. The 26-gallon fuel tank provides a decent vacation cruising range.
The Hydraulic Body Motion Control suspension system is a magic act in how it smooths, settles and balances the ride; a self-leveling rear suspension is standard. Braking force is reassuring from 13.78-inch vented four-wheel disc brakes, but I wasn’t hauling a travel trailer down a mountain grade in summer.
While fuel economy is challenged, there are stronger selling points. Infiniti is masterful at interior finesse with refined materials — and the Limited, Infiniti says, is its best effort yet for luxurious surroundings. The enormity of the cabin is calmed with a wraparound instrument panel, set off by matte silver ash wood trim, supple (semi-aniline) leather upholstery and dash pad, neatly stitched, with a black Ultrasuede headliner and roof pillars.
This is a high-riding SUV and the running boards and big grab handles at the windshield pillars will be helpful when hoisting aboard. The front seats are full-bodied, elegantly designed and not excessively bolstered but with perforated centers for breathability (ventilated) and heated. A grand armrest console with deep storage separates the captain’s seats; and the well-padded console lid is also rear-hinged for an upper storage area for second-row occupants to use. A wide shift console has covered cup holders and an e-bin, but with no wireless charging.
Sightlines are generally open, but the wide base of the side mirrors can complicate cornering views. The Around View camera system provides rear views and an over view to help with parking in tight quarters. It also alerts with tones to moving objects, front or rear. The front view is a huge asset when nosing into a parking slot.
While some SUVs can be a handful in small-space maneuverability, the QX80 drives much smaller than might appear and it is not intimidating. The steering is light and its turning radius of 41.3 feet is reasonable, and not much wider than some midsize sedans.
Standard safety features include six air bags, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear-collision avoidance, lane-departure warning and lane-departure prevention, predictive collision warning and blind-spot warning and intervention.
The QX80 has supportive driver-assist technologies but not the complete, Level 2 semi-autonomous drive mode that Nissan does so well. This system uses the intelligent cruise control navigation system, which integrates lane guidance,
forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection and predictive forward collision warning. And for 2020, the system adds blind spot warning, lane departure warning and backup collision intervention.
When activated, the system will steer and brake the vehicle, but two hands on the wheel are required. The system will let the Q80 wander over the highway Botts dots and road lines before making course corrections. But it will be helpful support in heavy commuting traffic.
The back-seat area looks like a road-trip lounge with captain’s chairs that are almost as large as those in front. Legroom of 39.6 inches is a stretch, but not limo-like depending on who is sitting up front. The seatbacks recline a few inches, but there is no seat-track slide; grab handles at the B-pillars are a smart addition to ease entry. Overhead side vents help with air flow that has controls for temp and fan speed. A large armrest console has deep storage for the video headphones. Amenities include heated seats, two charging USBs and a 150-watt household plug.
Access to the third row is by a one-handle release to flip and tumble the second-row seats. The space is kid-class with decent legroom of 36.8 inches, but the flat-folding seats make it more functional as expanded cargo space.
The cargo area has a wide 50-inch opening with an entry height of 33 ½ inches floor to headliner, but it is a very tall lift-up to the cargo floor. Behind the third row there is slim space of 16.6 cubic feet (convenient to corral lots of grocery bags) or power fold the seats for a square space of 49.6 cu. ft. or about 4 feet of length. Fold both rows for about 7 feet to carry a surfboard, skis, ladder.
Luxe vs. Limited
The $93K tester was a showpiece, but it is simple enough to order a $75K Luxe model and get all the hallmarks of the QX80. Its hushed cabin and sound-isolated ride communicate safety and security — ready to brave a pandemic or at least the natural elements of hail, hell or high water.
2020 Infiniti QX80 Limited 4WD
Body style: large, 7-seat, body-on-frame SUV with 4WD
Engine: 400-hp, direct-injection 5.6-liter V-8; 413 lb.-ft. torque at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, with rev-matching downshifts in sport mode; high- and low-range transfer case; hill-start assist, snow mode and tow mode functions
Fuel economy: 13/19/15 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel
Tow capacity: 8,500 lbs., with 7-pin trailering harness
- Fuel tank: 26 gal.
- Cargo space: 16.6-49.6 cu. ft.
- Front head/leg room: 39.9*/39.6 in. *w/sunroof
- 2nd row head/leg room: 40/39.6 in.
- 3rd row head/leg room: 36.8/28.8 in.
- Length/wheelbase: 210.2/121.1 in.
- Height/width: 75.8*/79.9 in. *w/roof rack
- Curb weight: 6,098 lbs.
- Turning circle: 41.3 ft.
- Standard Limited equipment includes: smart-key locking and push-button ignition, semi-aniline leather-trimmed upholstery, navigation system with lane guidance, 10-way power driver’s seat with 2-way power lumbar support, 8-way power passenger’s seat with 2-way power lumbar, heated and ventilated front seats, 17-speaker Bose audio system, auto-leveling rear suspension, twin-tube shock absorbers, 22-inch all-season tires (275/50), high-beam headlight assist
- Safety features include: 6 air bags, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear-collision avoidance, lane-departure warning and lane-departure prevention, predictive collision warning, blind-spot warning and intervention
- Base price: $92,845, including $1,395 freight charge; price as tested $93,200
- Options on test vehicle: all-season package, $355, of floor mats and cargo pad
- Where assembled: Kyushu, Japan
- Warranty: 4-years/60,000-miles with 24-hour roadside assistance; 6-years/70,000-miles powertrain